Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. In national elections in 2016, the Jamaica Labour Party led by Prime Minister Andrew Michael Holness won 32 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. The party maintained a majority through by-elections in 2017, 2018, and 2019. International and local election observers deemed the elections transparent, free, and fair but noted isolated incidents of violence leading up to and on election day. Observers deemed the by-elections transparent, free, fair, and peaceful.
The prime minister has general authority over the Jamaican Defence Board and as chairman of the board has responsibility for defense-related matters including command, discipline, and administration. He is the de facto minister of defense. The Ministry of National Security is the bureaucratic home of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and directs policy over the security forces. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is the country’s police force. It has primary responsibility for internal security and has units for community policing, special response, intelligence gathering, and internal affairs. When the prime minister and Parliament declare a state of emergency, the JDF has arrest authority and operational partnership alongside the JCF. The Passport, Immigration, and Citizenship Agency has responsibility for migration. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings by government security forces; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; corruption by officials; and forced child labor. The law criminalizes consensual same-sex activity between men, but the government did not enforce the law during the year.
The government took some steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Nonetheless, there was a general sense that there was not full and swift accountability for all officials alleged to have committed human rights abuses.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The rape of a woman, legally defined as forced penile penetration of the vagina, is illegal and carries a penalty of 15 years to life imprisonment. A criminal who commits sexual assault through anal penetration of either a male or female, however, can only be punished by a maximum of 10 years in prison. This strict definition created wide discrepancies between cases that otherwise had similar elements of sexual assault. The government tried to enforce the law effectively with respect to the rape of a woman but was less effective in cases involving the rape of a man.
Married women do not have the same rights and protections as single women. The law criminalizes spousal rape only when one of the following criteria is met: the act occurs after legal separation or court proceedings to dissolve the marriage; the husband is under a court order not to molest or cohabit with his wife; or the husband knows he has a sexually transmitted disease. Legally, marriage implies sexual consent between husband and wife at all times.
According to estimates by the Jamaican Constabulary Force Statistics and Information Management Unit, there were 432 rape cases in 2018, approximately a 12 percent reduction from 2017. Advocacy groups, however, continued to contend that rape was significantly underreported because victims had little faith in the judicial system and were unwilling to endure lengthy criminal proceedings.
Rape cases continued to occur in gated, all-inclusive resorts on the northern coast, with limited police response. In 2018 a hotel employee entered the hotel room of two foreign women and raped them at gunpoint before being shot by one of the victims. The man escaped from the hotel room but was later arrested after seeking medical assistance at a nearby hospital.
The government operated a Victim Support Unit (VSU) to provide direct support to all crime victims, including crisis intervention, counselling, and legal advocacy. The VSU managed 13 independent parish offices throughout the country, each with its own hotline and staff of trained providers. The VSU coordinated with a network of NGOs capable of providing services such as resiliency counseling and operating shelters. The Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) provided similar services for children, although both VSU and CPFSA were understaffed and lacked sufficient capacity to provide comprehensive care to the populations they served. There was an insufficient number of shelters in the capital area for women and children, and even fewer available outside the capital area. Police officers and first responders had limited training about services available to crime victims.
Sexual Harassment: No legislation addresses sexual harassment, and no legal remedy exists for victims. Harassment was a common occurrence, regardless of position or gender. Interviews with junior medical providers indicated that almost all had either experienced harassment or knew a colleague who had. A bill outlining sexual harassment, prohibiting related conduct, and providing provisions for the aggrieved to file complaints was brought to committee in Parliament in July. In July the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information advised schools and training institutions of their obligation to develop comprehensive policies to address sexual harassment.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Although the law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including equal pay for equal work, women encountered discrimination in the workplace and often earned less than men. Domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.
Birth Registration: Every person born in the country after independence in 1962 is entitled to citizenship. Persons outside the country born to or adopted by one or more Jamaican parents, as well as those married to Jamaican spouses, are entitled to citizenship.
Child Abuse: The law bans child abuse in all forms, including neglect. Corporal punishment is illegal; however, it was practiced informally in the home, schools, and children’s correctional facilities, as well as when a child was under state care. The penalty is a potential fine of 250,000 JMD ($1,800) or a prison sentence with hard labor for a period not to exceed three months. The CPFSA stated that despite outreach campaigns, more than 15,000 incidents of abuse were reported in 2018.
The law requires anyone who knows of or suspects child abuse, whether physical or sexual, to make a report to the registry office, with a penalty of up to 500,000 JMD ($3,500) and six months’ imprisonment, or both, for failure to do so.
Informal corporal punishment and other forms of child abuse were prevalent. Estimates from the NGO Jamaicans for Justice showed that 80 percent of children experienced psychological or physical violence administered as discipline, and a similar number had witnessed a violent crime in their home. Physical punishment in schools remained commonplace. The NGO noted that reports of child abuse trended slightly downward during the year.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but children may marry at 16 with parental consent.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and applies to the production, possession, importation, exportation, and distribution of child pornography. It carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 JMD ($3,500). The law prohibits child sex trafficking and prescribes a penalty of up to 30 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. There were continued reports of the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The law criminalizes sexual relations between an adult and a child–male or female–younger than 16 and provides for penalties ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment. Children have fewer legal protections than adults concerning sexual assault. The legal definition of rape is penile penetration of the vagina. A person who commits anal rape of a child is punished by only 10 years in prison. Similar to the situation for women, the distinction created wide discrepancies between cases that had the same element of sexual assault at their core. The risk of sexual assault reportedly was three times higher for children than adults. Cases were widespread and varied, involving children as young as age four.
Law enforcement continued to be implicated in reports of child rape. A police constable was taken into custody following allegations that he raped a 15-year-old girl in protective custody.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
Approximately 500 persons in the country practiced Judaism. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, although it does not mandate accessibility standards. The law was not fully implemented. Persons with disabilities continued to encounter difficulties accessing education, employment, health services, communications, transportation, and other services due to the lack of accessible facilities.
Insufficient resources were allocated for persons with disabilities. There were limitations in access to primary school education, although the constitution provides for the right to primary education for all children. There was also a lack of suitably trained faculty to care for and instruct students with disabilities. Postprimary and postsecondary educational services, vocational training, and life skills development opportunities were limited. Health care reportedly was at times difficult to access, especially for persons with hearing disabilities and persons with mental disabilities. Access problems were more pronounced in rural regions, where limited overall funding restricted the government’s ability to make an impact.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations and anal sex between men. Physical intimacy between men, in public or private, is punishable by two years in prison, and anal sex between men is punishable by up to 10 years with hard labor. There is no comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation.
The government enforced the law that criminalizes anal sex, or “buggery,” only in cases of sexual assault and child molestation. Officials did not prosecute consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men. The legal definitions of rape and buggery create a phenomenon where, under certain circumstances, segments of the population have unequal legal protection from sexual assault. For example, a man who sexually assaults a woman through penile penetration of the vagina is punishable by 15 years to life in prison. This same act, committed through penile anal penetration, of a woman, child, or man, would be punishable by only up to 10 years in prison. Local human rights advocates contended this was unequal protection under the law.
The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI persons on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Furthermore, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights stated the law legitimizes violence towards LGBTI persons.
The NGO J-FLAG (formerly Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays) reported that it received a similar number of cases of discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity against LGBTI individuals during the year, compared with previous years. Many of the cases reported during the year occurred in prior years. Underreporting continued to be a problem, as many of the persons who made reports were reluctant to go to police because of fear of discrimination or police inaction. Other NGOs reported hostility towards LGBTI persons including increased screening for transgender persons at airports.
Government agencies were involved in acts of discrimination (see section 2.b. for additional details).
Civil society, international organizations, and government officials continued to cite stigma and discrimination as factors contributing to low HIV-treatment coverage. The country’s ban on homosexual acts as part of the Offenses against the Person Act disproportionately affected subpopulations such as men who have sex with men and LGBTI individuals, where HIV infection levels were higher than average. Some individuals with HIV reported difficulty obtaining medical care, to the extent that some delayed seeking medical attention or traveled abroad to receive treatment.
The government continued to collaborate with the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to address HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Measures included training for health-care providers on human rights and medical ethics; sensitization of lawmakers and law enforcement officials; reducing discrimination against women in the context of HIV; legal literacy; legal services; and monitoring and reforming laws, regulations, and policies relating to HIV. The minister of health and wellness called for the elimination of stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS.
The law prohibits HIV-related discrimination in the workplace and provides some legal recourse to persons with HIV who experience discrimination. In rural or poor urban areas, there was less knowledge of the government services and programming available related to HIV.